Last week Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter (Liberal Party), spoke of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of gig workers in the food delivery sector and illustrated a perspective that is less helpful than it could be.
In mid-February 2021, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media release informing the community that it has charged a contractor following a worker’s death at a residential building site in Ballarat. Informing the community in such an early stage of a prosecution raises the issue of fairness and, according to one prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer, appears a little “unseemly”.
The revelation of legal action in any area of enforcement is tricky, with each case raising unique combinations of concern. Does the accused know of the prosecution? And before anyone else is told? Is the revelation in the public interest? Does it taint any future hearing or court appearance? Does it affect the chance of a successful prosecution or a successful defence? All of these are valid questions that need asking and answering in each case. Worksafe would surely have considered these matters before the February 2021 media release, but let’s look at the release in a different context.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set the occupational health and safety (OHS) bar unachievably high for Australian businesses.
Morrison is embroiled in a scandal about an alleged rape in a ministerial office, his knowledge of and response to it, and his government’s duty of care to political employees. Below is his response to this question from a journalist:
JOURNALIST: “What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What’s your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? “
Australia is in the midst of a murky investigation into an alleged rape that occurred out-of-hours in an office of a Federal Minister in Australia’s Parliament House. The incident has raised discussions and debates about workplace culture, the reporting of crimes, the uniqueness (?) of the parliamentary workplace, the rights of women, the role of the media in reporting the allegations or in being complicit in the workplace culture…….
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has got himself into a pickle about how to respond, how to investigate and what he should have known and what he was expected to do. One of the actions that he and his government could do, and should have done, was to accept, and act on, the findings of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) early last year. The relevance of this report is obvious:
Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.
One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.
It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.
The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that
“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”